It was 1991 when one of my professors at Carnegie Mellon University began discussing health policy in the United States. He told us about Arizona, where the state government had decided to stop paying for transplants. Then he went on to explain that desperate families were moving from Arizona to Pittsburgh, just so they could establish residency in Pennsylvania, and their loved one could receive a transplant.
At around that same time, an outspoken politician from Colorado, former Governor Richard Lamm, who ran for President of the United States on the Reform Party, described the travesty of Medicare vs. Medicaid. He described the older generation as committing “generational murder” because, even though many times there was no hope for their survival, for extending their life or for having any quality to their life, we, as a nation, spend 60% of our Medicare dollars on the last 30 or so days of life. He advocated being honest and allowing people to decide if they wanted palliative care.
What he also pointed out was that, as a country, we continue to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrial world. The reason, he theorized, was because the seniors voted and the young mothers didn’t and no politician would dare vote against that senior coalition. (This is not about death panels, it is about honesty in healthcare. It is about transparency and explaining the facts to the families so that they could make rational decisions.) None of his words were well received, but nevertheless, they were filled with candor and embraced very difficult ethical views.
The bottom line? It is a very sad situation when we have to, in effect, sentence people to death at any age because resources are not available to save them, but this is emphatically not about rationing of care, because rationing infers giving everyone a little less. This is about making a government decision to take away everything. So, this is about making rational resource allocation, not based upon the number of votes needed to get re-elected, but based on the value of a life at any and all ages.
Finally, the elephant in the room? Those people killed and wounded in Arizona were killed and wounded because of a man who is most likely mentally ill. We, as a country, must begin to address this mental health issue with parity, with commitment and without judgment. No family is without some member who is suffering from some mental health issue, but this discussion is still ignored, hidden or buried.
So, when the pundits ask if it is about the rhetoric? We don’t know. When they ask if it is about the availability of weapons and ammunition? The answer seems to fall under that same category. BUT, when the question is properly directed toward mental health? The answer seems to be absolutely, yes without a doubt.
During this time of reflection, let’s get serious about the very real and very big challenges that this nation faces. We must, as a nation, take these challenges head-on and deal with “problem solving,” and if this Congress does not begin to take action and begin to solve problems, then we must vote again in May and November to continue to make our voices heard.
Unless we can begin to talk with each other with dignity and respect, we will not make progress. Until we begin to respect the other person’s point of view and understand that debates are healthy again, we will not make progress. Our leaders need to debate, but at the end of that debate, it is essential that they walk out of the room together and agree that they are all here to do a job, and that job is to solve problems.
My heart goes out to all of those families who were impacted by this awful tragedy.